Monday, April 26, 2004

Principal defends student editorial

Some school board candidates infuriated by critical opinion piece

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ind. - An opinion column in a high school student newspaper has drawn criticism from some school board candidates that were not endorsed in the column, but school officials and legal experts say the student paper was within its rights.

The opinion piece in Columbus East High School's student paper endorsed three school board candidates and criticized five others running for spots on the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Board.

One current board member and two candidates say the column, written by 18-year-old Griffen Foster, the opinions editor at The Oracle, was insulting and illegal.

Board member Russell Barnard and candidate Paul Boaz have requested that the newspaper be removed from East High School on the basis that it is illegal, although experts and school officials have disagreed.

Doug Wilson, the husband of candidate Kathy Wilson, filed a formal complaint with school administrators requesting an apology and more faculty supervision over newspaper content.

"Children cannot be left free to humiliate people in print," the complaint reads.

In the column, Foster criticized candidates for their responses during a recent public forum. He referred to Kate Brown's performance as "completely without substance" and said Kathy Wilson's answers were "circular and, at times, belligerent in response to innocuous questions."

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said courts have determined that schools cannot engage in censoring opinion pieces.

"Anyone who believes students shouldn't be expressing views shouldn't be a school board member," he said. "My guess is they wouldn't have objected if they were the ones endorsed."

School officials said the school attorney read the article and found it not to be libelous.

East Principal Bill Jensen said he will not to take action on the issue.

"This is clearly an example of a form of protected speech by students," the principal said.

"We'll defend his right to say (his opinion) in a student newspaper."

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